news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has issued a statement to the effect that the NBN company’s alleged “overbuilding” activities were based on regulatory decisions to ensure “fairer” competition in the broadband market that would allow the NBN company to compete with commercial providers.
Yesterday it was revealed that the NBN company appeared to be deploying its own competitive infrastructure to a housing estate in Sydney, Sydney Park Village, which then-Shadow Communications Minister Turnbull had specifically used during the 2013 Federal Election campaign to highlight the strengths of his chosen Fibre to the Node technology.
Subsequently, the telco constructing the infrastructure, OPENetworks, has accused the NBN company of duplicating existing high-speed, open access broadband infrastructure around Australia in comments published by ZDNet. Delimiter has also been contacted directly by a number of readers who have supplied further information highlighting alleged overbuild activities by the NBN company.
In some cases, the company’s approach is particularly difficult to understand, because the NBN company is duplicating existing high-speed broadband infrastructure that already provides wholesale access to competitive telecommunications companies. Before the election, Minister Turnbull said in such circumstances, the NBN company would likely seek to acquire the existing infrastructure instead.
It is not clear why the NBN company is seeking to duplicate the infrastructure, rather than acquiring it. Questions also exist as to why the company is not instead prioritising other areas which do not already have access to high-speed broadband infrastructure.
The NBN company has not responded to a request for comment on the issue filed 24 hours ago.
This morning, Minister Turnbull’s office issued a statement in response to the allegations, which has been compiled by his Department of Communications.
“Following the consideration of the 2014 Vertigan regulatory review, the Government announced it would place fixed line competition on a fairer basis while ensuring consumers have access as soon as possible to faster broadband,” the statement said.
“This means there is scope for alternative providers to install competing infrastructure, but equally it means there is scope for NBN Co, as a commercial entity, to compete, as long as it makes commercial sense. That’s what NBN Co has been doing here.”
The Department said there was also an added dimension to the situation which represented “a unique policy challenge”.
“Many alternative providers are deploying superfast broadband in what are essentially brownfield buildings served by Telstra copper,” the Department wrote. “As such, they do not, as a matter of course, have [infrastructure provider of last resort] obligations to service all customers and some customers may remain on the Telstra ADSL network, meaning they wouldn’t necessarily have access to superfast broadband connections. In these instances, there is a need for NBN Co to have a presence in those buildings to ensure superfast services are available for everyone who needs them.”
“While the Government wants to foster private sector investment and competition and avoid unnecessary expenditure, it also needs to ensure that all people have access to better broadband and NBN Co, as a commercial entity, also need to invest where it makes sense.”
I am planning a detailed comment piece on this topic for tomorrow (Thursday). However, suffice it to say that I consider it a little extraordinary that a Coalition Government would firstly, encourage a Government Business Enterprise to compete in any way with private sector corporations, and secondly, that it would describe such an outcome as “fair” in any way.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting